January 16, 1966: Philosophers, take up your backpacks.

Turn philosophy into a sharp weapon in the hands of the masses, February, 1971

The January 16 1966 issue of the People’s Daily ran an editorial entitled “Philosophers, take up your backpack, go amongst the worker peasant soldier masses.”

This editorial is an open ended critique of academic philosophers, it does not feature the name of a specific target. It criticizes the tendency of intellectual philosophers to produce philosophical texts that cannot be grasped the by masses of workers peasants and soldiers. In the PRC the working masses, using their experience combining living and learning Mao Zedong Thought, have been able to break the intellectual monopoly on philosophical work and produce Marxist philosophical texts. However, intellectuals are lagging behind. They are writing obscure and empty philosophical works, which are totally unlike those produce by the masses. The reason for this lag is that intellectuals have not been participating fully in political movements and are separated from the masses. The article also recommends studying recommends studying Mao’s tracts On Practice, On Contradiction, on the Correct Handling of Contradictions Amongst the People, and Where Do Correct Ideas Come From? It extols philosophers to action: “Philosophers, get moving, put on your backpack, go to the grass roots, go to the great masses of workers peasants and soldiers, temper yourself into true Marxist philosophers”

At Play at the Time:

This editorial presages many Cultural Revolution critiques of intellectualism, and this sort of criticism would become more frequent and harsher as 1966 proceeded. Interestingly the start of the mass movement phase of the Cultural Revolution can be tied to the posting of Beijing University’ Philosophy Professor Nie Yuanzi’s big character poster in May 1966. It is difficult to tell what political camp this editorial originates in, as mentioned previously, revolutionary cadres as well as workers often resented the position of intellectuals within Chinese society and institutions of higher learning. Intellectuals had been targeted by the 1957 Anti-Righist campaign, which was orchestrated by Deng Xiaoping, and would be targeted again both by the party apparatus run work teams that entered campuses later in the year as well as by Rebel and Conservative Red Guards.

At Play at the Present

The articles that are recommended in this editorial are key to the understanding of Cultural Revolution era Mao Zedong thought and are worth a read for historians, interested parties, and activists.

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